Not all marketing agency clients are created equally. Some of them let writers take the creative reins themselves, while others have very high (and very specific) expectations for their content.

We call these high-SME clients, and writers since the beginning of time (meaning the early 2000s, when digital marketing really took off) have been struggling to find the best way to create great content consistently for these clients.

Here are some tips you can follow to help you meet all the expectations of your high-SME clients.

What Exactly Is a High-SME Client?

While every client deserves a high level of attention and detail, there are a few characteristics that tend to distinguish high-SME clients. These are:

  • Subject matter complexity: The industry they work in is highly complex with many moving parts, including nuances, industry jargon, esoteric concepts and other considerations, all of which require a deep level of understanding to write effectively. While every industry has a certain degree of specificity, high-SME clients tend to work in technology, pharmaceuticals, law, finance and insurance.
  • Client expectations: Sometimes it’s the client themselves that expects perfection, rather than the demands of the industry. Clients that have a lower tolerance for mistakes may have had bad agency experiences in the past and don’t want to repeat those ordeals. Of course, a lower tolerance for mistakes might also be due to the complex nature of some of the above industries.
  • Commercial risk: Content marketing is ultimately a business, and writing quality always has to be weighed against the business requirements of the agency. If there is a higher degree of commercial risk associated with the client — meaning they might not continue the partnership if content does not meet their expectations — there will be much greater pressure to deliver.

5 Tips for Writing High-SME Content

Any of the above factors can put pressure on content writers, leading to stress and frustration. However, there are a number of steps you can take to manage your high-SME clients and meet (and exceed) all of their expectations.

1. Be Proactive in Early Client Communications

Oftentimes, writers will have ample face time with their clients before they start writing. During those sessions, it’s important to ask specific, direct questions about the clients’ industry, their business, customers, pain points, marketing messaging and basically anything else you need to write a good piece of content.

This might not always be possible, however. Maybe your agency doesn’t allow writers to interact with clients as much or you’re writing for a high-SME client after a relationship has already been formed. If either one is the case, you should still set some time aside to ask internal stakeholders all of the questions you’d normally ask the client.

2. Take Your Time Doing Research

Clients usually share a pile of materials before writing begins, including creative briefs, competitors to emulate, product descriptions, brand guidelines and more. It can be tempting to gloss over this information and get straight to writing, but you should earmark a few hours of your day to read, digest, internalize and understand all of this material to the best of your ability.

The life of an agency content writer can be busy, so it might be hard to find the time. If you’re having difficulty, work with your manager to build that time into your schedule. At the end of the day, the quality of the final product matters more than how quickly you pump it out.

3. Source Carefully and Appropriately

Plagiarism is a high offense in the content marketing world, so proper sourcing and citations are critical to all client copy. However, when working with high-SME clients, it’s especially important to lean on highly reputable sources like government bodies, reporting agencies and news publications.

It’s OK (even ideal) to ask clients beforehand to point you to trusted industry publications or other sources they feel comfortable citing.

4. Ask for Support From Your Colleagues

You’re part of a team, and the success of everyone depends on the success of each individual contributor. If you feel like you don’t have the information you need to write a great piece of content, reach out to the client to obtain the necessary info or make sure other stakeholders are aware of the issue so they can help you.

5. Never Take Negative Feedback Personally

At the end of the day, you and the client have the exact same goal: creating a great piece of content. In pursuit of this goal, high-SME clients (any client, really) sometimes can be curt or abrupt in their feedback. Never (ever) take this personally. It is not a reflection of you as a person or even you as a writer. Respond positively to their feedback, apply it and move on.

Each of the above tips can (and should) be applied to all clients, regardless of the level of expertise required. Incorporating any of these tips into your content marketing approach can help you boost the quality of your writing and keep clients across the board happy.


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